How can you tell how much propane is left in a tank?

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I used my HF "weed burning" propane wand/torch to melt some ice this weekend. It did a pretty good job - I had started it up at 11PM but it was way too loud for evening work so I had to wait until the following day. I was afraid the bricks and concrete would overheat, but the water changing state from ice to water to steam kept the overall temperature down and the brick hardly became warm to the touch.
What I would like to know is this: How can I tell how much propane I've used and how much is left? Are there dial gauges I can attach to the tank that can indicate remaining number of pounds? Or do I have to weigh it each time I use it? I've "rung" the side of the tank with a small hammer, but I expect it would take a bit of experience to tell that way.
Any tricks or tips?
-- Bobby G.
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I got a gauge for the tank for my grill at Lowes. I have seen them at HD, Ace, etc. It might be hard to find given the time of the year. They also have strips you can put on the side of the tank that lets you how far up the gas is because it changes color.
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On 1/24/2012 9:10 AM, Kurt Ullman wrote:

When I lived for 6 months in my motor home, I had to get a barbeque-style propane tank as the one in the motor home is not removable and most propane delivery companies won't make a delivery for that small tank. So, about every 2 weeks I would switch back to the non-removable tank, still more than 1/2 full, and take the portable tank to be filled. I had a cheapo hanging scale, where I could weigh the tank and see how much propane was left. So, if you know the empty weight, you can pretty much tell how much is left. I think they put about 18 - 20 pounds in those tanks. Of course, the meters work too, but I just happened to have the scale in my tool box.
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wrote:

Trick you can do is mount the removable tank upside down above the fixed tank Connect them in series so that the flow is removable tank -> fixed tank -> appliance. Over the following days, the liquid propane in the removable tank will migrate to the fixed tank. Particularly with the change in temperature from daytime to night time. As the propane warms and cools, the liquid propane will migrate to the lower tank. This works even better if one of the two tanks, preferably the removable one is exposed to sunlight. Also by drawing gaseous propane from the lower tank, you will also cause liquid propane to be squeezed down into the lower tank. When the upper tank is near empty, you shut off the lower tank to use the upper one till it's completely empty. Then you just take the empty one and replace it with a full one.
This will keep the fixed tank nearly full and not cost you that much more.
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How do you do that without having to go to some kind of connector and a T that'll all work while under pressure? You'll also need a reducing valve somewhere before the appliance.
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Simple physics and gravity. If the pressure is equalized, a liquid will remain a liquid as it goes down the pipe, and it will displace the gas and pool at the lowest point. The permanent tank provides that deep pool

Typically the reducing valve is near the appliance, not the tank And it's an easy fix, if it's not.
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"How do you get your wife to approve that?" is my question. (-" I don't doubt it's a brilliant solution where running out of propane is a serious problem. For me, running out means going back to kitty litter and other mitigation techniques. I'd rather avoid that, but I won't starve, either.
After years of putting up with water-trapping steps and a direct northern exposure, it felt damn good to go out there the other day and just melt all the packed ice away in 5 minutes. I knew as soon as I saw it on sale at HF that I had to have it. As soon as my wife saw it she said: "Don't we already have a bazooka?"
"That's my potato cannon, dear!"
-- Bobby G.
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<stuff snipped>

That sounds like an interesting hookup but it's not quite suitable to the situation at hand. I had to lobby pretty hard to store one large propane tank on premises. Two hooked together would drive my former range safety officer wife over the line.
-- Bobby G.
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Why ? It's not like they're cars in a Hollywood movie, that will blow up if you look at them crooked.
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<stuff snipped>

I've got a 0-50LB hanging scale but pretty torn up wrists. The unit's mounted on a luggage cart with bungie cords and it's even heavier that way. Of course, I forgot to weigh the unit *before* I used it. )-: Now, at least I have a reference weight after one use.
I'm going to have to read more about the meters. Too many people found themselves out of propane at a bad time, even with the meters. They must have some limitation that I am not yet aware of. Could easily be a manufacturing/QC problem.
Thanks for your input, Art.
-- Bobby G.
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On 1/24/2012 6:10 AM, Kurt Ullman wrote:

How do those gauges work? I thought the pressure in a propane tank was a function of temperature and pretty much independent of how much is in there...as long as there's some liquid left.
I have seen them at

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wrote:

I've
tank
each
but I

Some people writing Amazon reviews seem to agree with that. That's why I asked here. I don't know if there's something different between the users reporting "works great" and "not worth spit." I assume there has to be some pressure change but it might not be enough to detect with consumer-priced products. I'll do some more research later unless I just decide to weigh the sucker and be done with it. I'd rather have some sort of gauge but not if it's not reliable.
-- Bobby G.
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On 1/24/2012 4:54 PM, Robert Green wrote:

i don't believe you get a pressure change until just before running out (when there's no more liquid), and by that time, it's too late.
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<stuff snipped>

I
users
some
consumer-priced
weigh
not
That brings up a different question. How come there are so many people on the Amazon review site that say the things work? I figure one quarter of the reviewers are shills, another quarter outright idiots but that still leaves some intelligent reviewers. It looks like weight is the only reliable, temperature independent way of measuring remaining gas.
-- Bobby G.
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On 1/25/2012 12:15 AM, Robert Green wrote:

Not so. I had an RV with a propane tank with a float gauge just like an auto gas gauge.

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<stuff snipped>

on
of
We were (at least I was) talking about the standard 40LB tank you get from HomeDepot, etc. Never seen any of them come with a float sensor - or any other capacity indicator. It's all moot if a cheap spring-type bathroom scale will do the trick without deforming over time.
-- Bobby G.
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The float guage would be accurate since it uses the fluid level inside the tank to determine the level. Most of the guages being discussed are not float type guages and can only measure pressure of the gas. Your guage must be included into the construction of the container and that is not the case with portable containers.

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I tried the gauges years ago and they didn't work worth spit. Ran out of gas more times than I care to admit when the guage still said I had reserve.
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On Tue, 24 Jan 2012 18:54:47 -0500, "Robert Green"

All a pressure guage can tell you is if it is empty - but by the time that happens you already KNOW it is empty.
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wrote:

tank
each
but I

I've found a couple of such gauges online. What worried me is that more than a few negative reviews said "not good for anything" which leads me to believe there might be some issues with its reliability. It seems to me that at a constant temperature, less propane means a lower a pressure. How reliable that indication is seems to be an issue for some buyers, at least.
I've seen the tank strips, too, but IIRC you have to run the unit for a while to see the temperature differential. I made a high quality audio recording of the "ding" of my small tack hammer. I'll make another recording after the next prolonged melting session. I'm betting there's a pretty accurate correlation between the resonant frequency of the tank and the remaining amount of liquid. I remember my Dad gauging the amount of fuel oil left in the tank that way "Navy-style" as he would say.
It's looking more and more like weight is the only reliable indicator, but that's hard on arthritic wrists and would require a hook to hang the spring scale from - the tank's already bungied onto a surplus metal luggage cart and they both weigh 42lbs at the moment. I lifted it by hand to get that reading, but it's not something I want to do over and over again.
-- Bobby G.
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